Surviving the Unexpected

“Though the human body is born complete in one moment, the birth of the human heart is an ongoing process. It is being birthed in every experience of your life. Everything that happens to you has the potential to deepen you. It brings to birth within you new territories of the heart.”

John O’Donohue, A Journey of the Heart

It started Friday morning when I discovered a curious round red rash on my upper abdomen. It wasn’t painful or itchy. “Hm,” I thought, “I’ll have to keep an eye on that.” I went about my day as if everything were normal.

Things were not normal, though. Saturday morning there was another smaller rash and some mild discomfort. A trip to the ER confirmed it…I had shingles! What????

I’d been thrown off by the fact that there hadn’t been the excruciating nerve pain that was shingles 8 years ago. A shot on the first day had taken care of everything that same day.

There was also the reality that two years ago, I’d had the miracle Shingrix vaccine which is 90% worth of protection for us old folks. I’d had no qualms about taking the two shots. I remembered that excruciating pain and was not about to take any chances.

When I got home with my new horse pills for the shingles themselves, I had time to process this latest assault to my poor body, “born complete in one moment.” I would usually cry pathetic tears in this kind of situation, overcome by the injustice of it all and by the fear of what this, now, would become. But I was just plain mad.

I had a short, expletive-laden talk with Life and settled in for the journey ahead. I was so straightforward and matter-of-fact that I was surprised by my sudden acceptance of what had befallen me. That’s not like me.

“I would love to live like a river flows, carried by the surprise of its own unfolding.”

John O’Donohue, “A Journey of the Heart”

When you have made it through a journey with cancer, the river is not really so surprising any more. Perhaps that is why my dismay fell so quickly into acceptance. I have made it through before, and I’ll make it through again.

“It is what it is,” was my father’s favorite saying late in his life. I’ve adopted the grace of its truth.

So I’ve got my medication chart on the counter to keep track of when I take each pill: there are 5 kinds! One of them makes me really sleepy, so I have to do battle with that so I don’t sleep the day away. I survived all the cancer pills; I can do this one, too. This is my work now for a while.

The pain is not excruciating, but it is considerable without medication, and so far it has not abated. I may be one of those for whom it does not go away – who has PHN, Postherpetic Neuralgia. It is what it is.

“Okay, Martha, let’s make this a great day!” is my mantra as I get up in the morning. Simple, but it’s working!

“Nothing seemed certain any more. Before 9/11 we’d fallen, as people always do, into merely living. But 9/11 reminded us, as death always does, that life must not be taken for granted. By 9/12 we were remembering what life was for again.”

Mitch Teemley, in his incredible blog on September 9, 2021

Life is for living. For living fully. Including all of the surprises that kick us in the shins. Joy and grace and hope and a faithful endurance are all there for the taking. They are all a part of the surprise of the unfolding river of life. Bringing new birth and a deepening of the heart. I do not intend to take it for granted. The Spirit has never deserted me, and I can feel that sacred strength as part of the river of life as it is right now.

And I am very okay with that.